Huge Cache of Exquisite Coffins Found in Egypt
The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has announced a major discovery near Luxor in the south of the country. Archaeologists have unearthed at least 20 wooden coffins that date back to the era of the pharaohs. This find is expected to throw light on the burial practices and lives of the people of the area in the ancient past. The major discovery was made during an excavation by archaeologists working in the Assasif necropolis .
According to the Daily Mail ‘It sits between the Deir al-Bahri and the Tombs of the Nobles, and next to the Temple of Hatshepsut on the West Bank of Luxor’. It was originally located not far from the ancient city of Thebes.
The necropolis at Assasif
Assasif was used as a burial place for thousands of years. Phys.org reports that it ‘includes tombs dating back to the Middle, New Kingdom and the Late Periods (1994BC to 332BC)’. It was mainly used for the burials of residents of the great city of Thebes. It was known as Waset to the ancient Egyptians and was at times the pharaohs’ capital during the Middle and the New Kingdom era, before it fell into ruin. Today, most of ancient Thebes is buried under the bustling modern metropolis of Luxor.
Archaeologists found at least twenty coffins which are brightly painted and shaped to imitate the human-form. A spokesperson for the Ministry stated that the find in the Assasif necropolis is the "biggest and most important" in the area in recent years, reports the Times of India .
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The coffins are in excellent condition with the paint intact. ( Ministry of Antiquities )
The Times of India reports that ‘Photos from the ministry show colored coffins with inscription’. The caskets are almost completely covered with inscriptions and paintings and many of these appear to be in excellent condition and still have their original color. These may provide information on the identity and the status of those who were interred in the coffins.
The coffins are so elaborate and ornately decorated because they were seen as the eternal dwelling place of the dead. They are all very well-preserved, despite being thousands of years old. This is probably a result of the arid and dry climate in Southern Egypt. Similar finds of wooden coffins are not unknown. The well-preserved mummy of a woman was found in a remarkably preserved coffin in the Assasif necropolis in 2018 by a French team of archaeologists. But the quantity and quality of this find is exceptional.
Part of the extraordinary coffin cache found at the Assasif necropolis. ( Ministry of Antiquities )
The discoveries are considered to be of such significance that the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities visited the site of the discoveries. Minister Khaled el-Anany, was shown the coffins by members of the team who made the amazing discoveries and local officials. In recent years, the Egyptian authorities have used archaeological finds to ‘in the hopes of reviving its tourism sector, which was badly hit by the turmoil following the 2011 uprising’ according to the Irish Examiner .
Minister of Antiquities Khaled el-Anany looking at recently discovered ancient colored coffins. ( Ministry of Antiquities )
Who was buried in the coffins?
However, it is unlikely that the coffins contain riches such as gold death masks . It is likely that those who were buried in the coffins were not members of royalty. Most likely the coffins belonged to wealthy and powerful individuals. Many members of the political elite in Thebes were buried in the necropolis, it appears. The Daily Mail reports that earlier digs at Assasif ‘ found tombs belonging to Anch-Hor, Kheru-Ef, Montuemhet, and Pabasa’ who were all either senior royal officials or viziers.
More details about the coffins will be made in the coming days and a major press conference is planned by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities on Saturday. It is not known if the coffins contain any mummies. Researchers will continue to examine the coffins and decipher their inscriptions and paintings. It is possible that more coffins will be unearthed in the area in the future.
Top image: Some of the twenty coffins found in the Assasif necropolis. Source: Ministry of Antiquities
By Ed Whelan